Cro-Mags: Best wishes
29/03/11 || Habakuk
Sometimes you hear an album and you instantly know you have Class6(66) material on your hands. Lights, camera, revolution is such an album, also one which I considered quite unique. Then I heard Cro-Mags: “Best wishes”, and I wish someone would have recommended this one to me earlier – a quick check of the trusted GD resources reveals no entry, so it clearly wasn’t me not reading it, but the world not filling me in. Fuck you, world. Admittedly, everyone including me has seen the odd Cro-Mags shirt, but my mental perception of them always put them in the “Just another NYHC band – check out later or never” corner of my brain. Fuck you, perception, and you too, brain.
8.5. In fact, this is quite the metal-sounding record, with clear nods to the classic hardcore scene. Moving away from their debut’s more pure hardcore sound, the Cro-Mags’ songs got longer here, now clocking in at around 3 to 4 minutes. Basically, what they now fused was the simplicity of Slapshot and friends’ hardcore, and thrash in the vein of Sacred Reich, Nuclear Assault and the likes. And what a mixture that is. The result sounds like what Suicidal Tendencies and D.R.I. set out to do, but doesn’t branch out as much, sounding a lot more coherent as a whole. As such the songs are so densely packed with awesome moments and transitions, they’ll make you jump up and go nuts in a matter of seconds. I reckon that is at least part of the reason why CBGB got its great reputation back in the day. How can you not love the move from a d-beaty chorus with positively chaotic bass work in the background to a focused, fist-pumping, face-smashing thrash break (“Down but not out” at around 2:30)? We just don’t know… and I’m gonna fist-pumpingly face-smash myself for not having heard this years earlier.
9. This sounds like a job done right. Fat bass drums and guitar complement New York’s trademarked thin thrash guitars in a well adjusted mix with a good deal of low-end. The bass has a snotty-nosed but round and full sound, and the drums, while obviously being a child of the eighties, still manage to convince me by having one of the best, punchiest sounds from that era. Just compare it to Suicidal’s aforementioned album or D.R.I.‘s “Thrashzone”, both of which came out the same year or one year later even, and we have a clear winner here. A great production that shows only the good signs of age, just like becoming wiser, being able to give the young’uns shit, or just not giving a fuck.
8.5. Both guitarists come across as absolutely tight with ripping palm-muted shredding that meets punky open chords which let the bass shine in the background. Tight killer riffing (Sacred Reich at their best come to mind again) is ever present, so there really is not much more to ask for here. The solos sound like being taken straight off a flat out thrash album, and so do a lot of the verse riffs. A good deal of E-string mid-tempo chugging in best late-eighties fashion seals the deal, and little melodic bits are the proverbial hair on the caveman. Noice!
8. The make-or-break criterion for almost every band you hear for the first time, and here it’s a clear “make”. On their debut album, the Cro-Mags had a dedicated singer who happened to be annoying as fuck, but bassist/vocalist Harley Flanagan who took over for “Best wishes” is about ten times better. He does some weird stuff in about two “clean” moments, but in general he uses a strained but very powerful shout – and when he goes staccato screaming is when the real fun begins. One of the more engaging singers I’ve heard in quite a while, and – surprise! – that works wonders when combined with killer riffs.
9. The skateboard punk / hardcore influence is kind of prominent with what Parris Mayhew does on bass, namely rumble and roll himself through the songs, walk all over the guitar chords with classy fretboard moves and generally fuck shit up 4-string style – instead of doing the classic metal guitar follower that we’ve all heard enough of. The bass sound and feel is very similar to Danny Lilker’s on Nuclear Assault’s “Game Over”, and the delivery is equally committed. And that is indeed a very good thing.
8. Pete Hines actually doesn’t do anything too out there, but his excellent flow together with a great-sounding kit are enough to put him up there with them high grades, as he supports the rest of the band flawlessly with up-tempo, punk-rooted drumming.
6. The last line of the album pretty much sums it up:
Those of us who’ve seen the way
Must stand and fight for a brighter day
At some point early in their career, Cro-Mags apparently discovered – I kid you not – Hare Krishna for themselves, and consequently their lyrics have the usual anti-society tendencies, but from a most unexpected angle. I wonder how much the number of skateboards in front of Krishna temples rose after this album. Anyway, it doesn’t really get in the way of a good listening experience, as it all stays pretty down to earth and “hare-haaare” chants are nowhere to be found.
7. “Hare-haaare” … no, it actually looks quite cool. Did Soulfly take notes here?
8. A nicely weathered version of the classic “hardcore” font, which I already find pretty cool (if a bit overused nowadays) in its standard form. Good stuff.
N/A. Yet. This disc will be bought the minute I find it.
Overall and ending rant
It’s albums like this that make me never stop listening to old school stuff. You always discover awesome shit despite “knowing it all” already. So, if you liked Suicidal Tendencies’ more metal moments, wished Nuclear Assault and Anthrax weren’t fronted by such annoying squealers or D.R.I. were more coherent, or generally enjoy what used to be called “crossover” as in hardcore meets thrash metal, there seems to be no way around this Cro-Mags album. All the more mysterious is how I managed to evade them for so long. Get the skateboards out and flip your caps up, gentlemen, we’re riding back to ’89!
- Released: 1989
- Label: Profile
- Website: www.cro-mags.com
- Harley Flanagan: vocals, bass
- Parris Mayhew: guitars
- Doug Holland: guitars
- Pete Hines: drums
- 01. Death camps
- 02. Days of confusion
- 03. The only one
- 04. Down but not out
- 05. Crush the demoniac
- 06. Fugitive
- 07. Then and now
- 08. Age of quarrel